Yes, I-1351 costs money, but our kids are worth it

It’s election time and we all have received our ballots. Now we get to ponder our choices, look over the voter’s pamphlet, read or just recycle the literature/propaganda/disinformation that comes in the mail, and fill in the ovals for the candidates and issues which we support.

One of the best things about elections in our state is that you don’t have to wait in long lines in rainy weather, as we once did. We get to vote in the comfort of our own homes and mail in our ballots.

This vote-by-mail is a good example of government working for you. This didn’t just happen. Our Legislature enabled us to leap from 19th-century voting mechanics right into the 21st century, and make it as easy as possible for as many citizens as possible to vote. (There is still room for improvement — we could allow voter registration up to and including Election Day. That would make sense — that’s when the vast majority of us are even keyed into the election and voting.)

One ballot measure of particular interest this time around is Initiative 1351, reducing class sizes in our public education system. It is a no brainer. Of course we should have lower class sizes. Currently we rank 47th among the states for class sizes. Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and South Carolina all have smaller class sizes. Lower class sizes make a big difference for kids starting out in school. Lower class sizes make a big difference in middle schools, where hormone-laden kids can easily get lost or hide from education. Lower class sizes make a big difference in high school classes in math and science, history, technology, writing, and indeed, in all the aspects of critical thinking.

All sorts of opinion leaders agree that we need to reduce class sizes to give kids a better education. Parents will tell you the same thing, as will teachers. But the Legislature has balked at doing this. The reason: They don’ want to pay for it.

The opponents of Initiative 1351 complain that it costs money. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? To reduce class sizes, you need smaller classes, which means more teachers and more classrooms, which means more money. Initiative 1351 guarantees class sizes of 17 kids in K-3 and 25 kids in high school classes. It adds guidance counselors in high school to encourage kids to further their education after high school. The initiative funds career and technical education classes and skill center programs for kids who aren’t going to college and it reduces classes in high poverty schools to 15 in K-3.

The investment to enable smaller class sizes is about $1 billion a year over the next four years. If we don’t want to pay for lower class sizes, then why not do the opposite? Increase class sizes! We could stuff 40 kids in K-3 classrooms and leave 25 wandering in the halls. We could eliminate all school counselors. We could drop advanced placement classes for high school students. Some will make their way to college in any case!

If we did all these things, we could probably chop $2.5 billion out of the budget. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! Of course, we would also succeed in triggering a state-wide economic depression, eliminating thousands of decent-paying private and public sector jobs, increasing crime, and closing the door on the future for our kids.

None of us want this to happen. We want a bright future for our kids, our neighbors, our communities, our economy and our state. But that takes money.

In our state, we have incredibly profitable companies, such as Boeing, whose federal tax rate is negative 2 percent (that’s right, we as taxpayers give them money.) Microsoft does OK for itself as well, skipping $30 billion in federal taxes last year by permanently investing $93 billion outside the U.S. There are all sorts of free-loaders who aren’t paying their taxes in our state, ranging from corporations who park their money in Wall Street to financial planners to oil companies.

We have to give the Legislature the political will to find the money. It’s there! With Initiative 1351 we create that mandate, for our kids and our future.

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). Email john@eoionline.org.

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